AFI Fest 2011: Extraterrestrial

Nacho Vigalondo’s previous film Timecrimes was a refreshing take on the very common sci-fi sub-genre of time travel, and this time he throws his hat in the ring of another very common sci-fi sub-genre, the alien invasion film. But as you might expect if you’ve seen Timecrimes, there’s not much about this film that’s common. And that’s a very good thing.

A man awakens naked in a strange apartment, figures out there’s a girl there and he probably just slept with her, but can’t remember much more than that. Must’ve been a good night of partying, he figures, and prepares to leave after an extremely awkward conversation with her that reveals she doesn’t remember much either – not even that their names are the cutesy Julio and Julia. Then the power cuts out, they look out the window, and see a gigantic spaceship hovering over the city, and all the streets nearby seem deserted. Turns out the ship turned up the night before and everyone evacuated except the two of them and a neighbor who clearly has a thing for Julia, so they kind of stick together by default. Then Julia’s boyfriend Carlos shows up.

These four are basically our cast of characters, and the film is very much driven by their personal interactions rather than plot or external circumstances – the opposite of what you’d expect in an alien invasion story. Because really, though there’s an air of paranoia throughout the film (often played for comedy rather than thrills), these characters are more paranoid about the others finding out their secrets than about any alien danger. The only sort-of exception is Carlos, who is almost oblivious to the things going on in his own relationship, instead focusing his attention on the possibility that one of them may be an alien infiltrator, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing.

The film plays out with a combination of absurdity and indie realism that works perfectly thanks to Vigalondo’s witty and believable script and fine acting turns from the whole cast, who have a perfect sense of comic timing. Laughs come as organically from a long-held look of incredulity as from a biting piece of dialogue. The plot is pretty spare (something Vigalondo purposely went for, shooting for character-driven over plot-driven, as his previous film was), but it’s enough to hang together, and the ending is pretty perfect. If you’re looking for big battle scenes and special effects, you won’t find them here, but what is here is a whole lot of heartfelt fun.

Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Screenplay: Nacho Vigalondo
Producers: Nahikari Ipiña, Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner
Country/Language: Spain, Spanish
Running Time: 90 min

Jandy Hardesty
the recovering academic

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